Croatians took to the poll for a presidential vote on Sunday that could over take the ruling conservatives just as the country takes the helm of the European Union’s rotating presidency.
The pre-Christmas election, is a tight race between conservative incumbent Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and front-running rivals.
Grabar-Kitarovic has been president since 2015 with backing from HDZ, the center-right party that has led Croatia for most of its independence since 1991.
The 51-year-old has often wavered between representing the party’s moderates and pandering to its nationalist faction.
In her re-election bid, she is struggling to hold on to hardliners shifting to a right-wing folk-singer turned politician, Miroslav Skoro.
Playing on an emotive symbol of the 1990s independence war, Grabar-Kitarovic held her final campaign rally on Friday in eastern Vukovar, the town whose bloody siege by Serb forces became a byword for Croatian suffering during the conflict.
She told the crowd she believed those who fought and died in the war “don’t regret being killed since Croatia is (now) here”.
The comments were seen as an effort to burnish her nationalist credentials in the battle with Skoro, who has been wooing the far-right with promises to deploy troops to halt migrants at the borders and pardon a convicted war criminal.
Running as an independent, the 57-year-old singer was polling in third place in the run-up to election day.
Meanwhile, the split on the right has carved out a space for leftist former premier Zoran Milanovic, 53, to gain traction. He was running neck-and-neck with Grabar-Kitarovic in the latest opinion polls.
Prime minister from 2011 to 2016, Milanovic was previously derided for his arrogance but is trying to make a comeback with the promise to make Croatia a “normal” country with an independent judiciary and respect for minorities.